PR Agency Spotlight:
Kate Finley, CEO, Belle Communications
PR Firm Owners Need to Be More Willing to
Adapt to Millennials but Not Bend Over Backward
Kate Finley, CEO of Belle Communications, was about to start her presentation at a work session at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy spring meeting titled “The Marvelous and Mysterious World of Managing Millennials: Mindset, Culture and Policy.”
The session, which attracted roughly 50 PR firm owners and senior PR executives, focused on some of the best practices for working more effectively with millennial communicators.
Leading up to the session, several attendees approached Finley to discuss the challenges they face motivating millennials. Many were frustrated, and some went so far as to say they were done hiring millennials altogether.
While sympathetic, Finley—a millennial herself—doesn’t mince words. “We aren’t going anywhere,” she says.“As firm owners and senior leaders, we must learn to engage this generation, or we risk loss of relevance and sacrifice our workforce. If we don’t learn how to engage them, someone else will and our clients will go to them.”
Call it tough love. But, in light of demographic trends, it’s something that PR firm owners need to hear—and act upon. According to Catalyst, millennials will make up the majority of the global workforce by 2025.
“You have to be willing to adapt, but it’s not necessary to bend over backward for millennials,” Finley says. “Just as with any other employees, you must have the right people in the right seats. It’s important to understand what drives millennials and adjust appropriately, but performance and fit are still non-negotiable.”
Since time immemorial, employees generally have had to adapt their individual style to their employer’s culture. But, at 80-million strong, millennials seem to have flipped the model.
Resistance is futile. As social channels creep toward the core of marketing PR firm owners must tap into digital talent among millennials who, after all, grew up online.
Finley says it’s important to communicate the big picture with millennial employees and provide validation for their endeavors.
“They have to know how their role [for the firm] makes a difference,” she says. “And, yes, they’re still going to ask about the next salary increase and when they can expect to be promoted. They want to see the path forward and they’re not afraid to ask for what they want.”
Belle Communications, which launched in 2013, is ranked as a Top 10 PR firm in Central Ohio and recently received a ‘Progressive Organization’ Award from Smart Business’ 2017 Smart Women Awards.
The firm, whose clients include IGS, Nestlé and Sbarro, currently has nine full-time employees, most of them women who are millennials. That’s not by design, Finley says, but driven by the best fit for clients’ needs.
With the firm largely populated by millennials, Finley has developed a sharp antennae for how to retain millennials and cultivate relationships for the greater good of the firm. Here’s a few tips:
1. Ask for honest feedback—and mean it. Ensure senior managers meet with employees to ask them how they feel about their current role; what could be improved; challenges they currently face and how they see themselves growing in the agency. Emphasize that the individual’s opinion makes a difference in shaping future policy, client process and the culture. It’s also helpful to let them know you want to position them to be successful. Millennials want their voices heard.
2. Pay closer attention to your work culture. It isn’t just about free beer and nap stations. Your PR firm will hold less appeal among millennials who don’t get a strong sense of why they are a part of your organization, how your firm makes a difference and how open your culture is to collaboration, new ideas and constant feedback. Refresh (or reset) the firm’s employee benefits. In contrast to baby boomers or Gen Xers, millennials have a decidedly different outlook when it comes to employee benefits and perks. Audit your benefits package and see what alterations can be made to support millennial values. Consider perks like allowing people to work from home, bulk up PTO opportunities and encourage less conventional work hours (for an always-on generation).
3. Encourage training and ownership initiatives. While Finley says that most millennials are eager for clear expectations and training for the first 90 days of starting a new job or new role they are also sensitized to being micromanaged. “They need to know you trust them and will let them try,” Finley says. She advises that PR firm owners be clear with millennials about the firm’s goals and objectives, and show how the individual is contributing to both. “I’ve yet to meet a millennial who prefers to be told what to do every step of the way,” Finley says. “If you feel the need to babysit due to poor performance and you’ve been clear on expectations from the start, that employee is likely the wrong fit for your firm.”
What actions has your firm been taking to increase the appeal among millennials? We’re eager to hear from you.
To read “The Millennials Project,” which focuses on understanding what “truly drives” millennials, please click here.
Register here for our free Webinar: How Millennial Creative Service Firm Owners Boost Profitability, Spike Valuation and Position Themselves as Thought Leaders. The webinar will take place Tuesday, September 19, from 1:30-2:30 ET.
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